In March 2008, I walked away from a great job into a writing career path that, at the time, paid me about 50% of what I was making at my previous job.
To a lot of people in my life, this seemed like an amazingly difficult step. That move reduced our monthly household income (at the time) by about 30% and seemingly did away with a great deal of job security. Why would I possibly make this move?
I did it for several reasons.
I wanted to spend more time with my family. Over the last few years of my previous job, I felt like I was constantly traveling and away from my family. I also felt that, even when I was around, I was having my family time constantly interrupted by work needs. I did not want to be that kind of absent parent and, for me, talking about wanting to be a great parent was more than just talk. I was going to walk the walk, too.
This was probably the only window of opportunity life would hand me to become a writer. Writing is something I’d always dreamed of doing for a living, but it always felt like something that would never realistically happen. When I first went to college, part of me wanted to major in English lit, but I chose not to do that solely because I felt like there was no income-generating career path other than being an English teacher.
My career path was one where I would never be able to significantly increase my pay based on hard work. I had no chance of ever building a large income stream from my job, no matter what I did.
Our spending was under control. We were not only spending less than our combined salaries, we were spending less than our combined salaries after I switched career paths.
I did not feel as though my previous job was actually helping anyone improve their life. I spent most of my time exploring abstract problems and answering abstract questions. While it was intellectually stimulating, it was quite often spiritually depressing.
I wanted more time flexibility. I often felt very productive early in the morning and completely useless in the mid afternoon, with another productivity bounce in the evening. The nature of my job meant that I couldn’t work when I was productive and find other things to do during my unproductive periods. I had to work for a set period each day, and at least some of that set period overlapped with my unproductive times during the day.
These reasons together made for a compelling case to switch careers when the right opportunity came along.
But what made that opportunity? How did I find a situation where I could make that kind of radical change in my life without losing the things I valued?
For us, it broke down to six key elements. I believe that if you cultivate these six elements in your own life, you’ll open the doors to the kind of career and life change that you’ve always wanted.
Live well below your means
This is first and foremost. If your standard of living makes your current salary a requirement, then your ability to make a major career change is almost nil. In short, you’re choosing the expensive things in your life over career freedom. For some people, that’s a healthy choice, but if you’re reading this article, chances are that you are yearning for some career freedom. Getting your spending under control is absolutely necessary.
Many people view such spending changes as deprivation. Instead, I suggest viewing it as an exploration. What’s the most enjoyment you can have without spending a dime? If you use that as a constraint right off the bat, you’ll often find yourself exploring new things while also channeling your life towards financial stability.
Maximize your monthly cash flow
This goes hand in hand with reducing your spending. A person maximizes their monthly cash flow by minimizing every single one of their bills. Pay off all of your debts. Focus on efforts to reduce your monthly bills – electricity, telephone, food, shelter, and so on. Live in a smaller place than you might otherwise afford.
The purpose of these steps is to maximize the difference between your income and your actual required spending each month so that, if you choose to take a lower paying job, you’re well prepared for any lifestyle changes that might be needed. Plus, you can save that extra income as an emergency fund or a startup fund for any ventures you might want to take on.
Fill your spare time by doing what you love
Rather than spending your spare time idling, spend every spare moment you can doing what you love to do. Don’t be afraid to be an unpaid volunteer if need be. Don’t be afraid to burn countless evenings practicing your skills. In fact, that’s the type of thing you should be doing if you want to make that kind of leap.
The more you practice something, the better you get at it, particularly if you try to change up what you’re doing and don’t just repeat the same routine over and over again.
Cultivate luck by collecting opportunities
Hand in hand with doing what you love is building connections within that field that you’re so passionate about. Spend time contacting anyone and everyone in that field. Get to know them as best you can. Don’t be afraid to do small favors for them as well in order to cultivate a good reputation.
At the same time, don’t hesitate to share the fruits from the time you’re spending doing what you love. The internet just begs for this, in the form of blogs, YouTube videos, Flickr pictures, and countless other avenues.
Reboot your social circle
If you find that your normal social circle is not absolutely supportive of the time you’re spending on new directions in your life, don’t be afraid to reboot that circle. Stick with the friends in your life that are supportive of your changes and find new people to spend time with to replace the people who doubt you or taunt your changes.
Quite often, you’ll find these new friends in the process of cultivating opportunities. As you begin to meet people with similar passions as your own, it’s easy to build new relationships with them. The key is to surround yourself with people that provide some degree of positive reinforcement to your new life directions rather than negative reinforcement.
Be a free agent
A final key step is to start looking at your current job in a new light. Your job is not your life. It’s a method of earning income, one where you exchange some of your energy and effort for some of the employer’s money. Your employer is obviously looking for the best exchange there, so you should do the same. Don’t dump all of your emotions and energy into your job – do your tasks and move on to the real place to utilize your emotions and energy, which is your new area of focus.
Similarly, never fall into the trap of thinking of your boss or your employer as your friend. Yes, quite often they are nice to you because being nice to you is a highly effective way of getting you to go the extra mile. That’s not friendship, however, and if you find yourself going way above and beyond in order to help out a boss or an employer out of a sense of “friendship,” you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Remember, your goal is to get yourself into the right place so you can do what you love with your life. Keep that front and center and you’ll find that things will begin falling into place for you.